This post follows on from Part 1 here.
I woke up at 1am; my contractions had started again. The midwife came in and made sure the monitors were in the right place to pick up the heartbeat and contractions, and told me to call if I needed anything. Between then and 7am, I dozed in between contractions. After three days without sleep, a chest infection, ridiculous amounts of stress and a dose of codeine, I literally couldn’t stay awake between contractions. I would wake with the pain, clench my fists and count to ten (or fifteen, or twenty, or more), and then go back to sleep. I was scared to call or text anyone to tell them what was happening, least of all the ex; I didn’t want to wake him if he was sleeping. At 7am I could wait no longer and texted him, hoping he would come back. He did, but not until after 10am, by which point I had been moved to the labour room. He got there just as they gave me the gel to induce me because my contractions weren’t moving quickly enough.
My sister in law had agreed to be my birthing partner, and I texted to tell her I was definitely having the baby today. She said to let her know when I was x amount of centimetres dilated and she would come. I hadn’t realised how quickly the contractions would escalate once I had been induced, and suddenly it was very uncomfortable. I texted and asked her to come sooner, and my sister gave her a lift. I was so relieved when she arrived; I knew the ex would behave himself if there was someone else there, and that my sister in law would soon kick him into touch if he was horrible.
All my pain was in the front of my belly, like period pains. Whenever I had a contraction the ex would rub my back furiously, like he was trying to rub a stain out of a carpet. I found it off-putting, and uncomfortable but it took me over an hour to pluck up the courage to ask him to please not do that. His response was “why am I not allowed to touch you?” and I had to let him rub my leg instead. The midwife, Joy, brought me a TENS machine and showed me how to use it to manage the pain. She told me to use it sparingly, and try to make it last as long as possible. I was still tied up to the monitors to keep an eye on the baby’s heartbeat, but we found a way that I could sit on my knees on the floor, and lean my arms on one of those gym balls. I managed to eke the TENS machine out until 3pm, when Joy was due to come back from her break. I was counting the seconds until she came back, and had it turned up as high as it would go by that point. When I had a contraction I would lean my arms on the gym ball and the TENS machine made them wobble. My sister in law asked if I realised they were doing it and I said, yes, it’s taking my mind off the pain to focus on my arms wobbling!
When Joy came back she checked and told me I was 10cm dilated, and could have gas and air if I wanted. I lay back on the bed and for a while I had the Entonox as well as the TENS. This turned out to be a bad idea, as for days afterwards every time I was on the edge of sleep I could feel the TENS machine buzzing on my back again.
At some point my friend S and her partner B turned up. They sat in the corner of the room and made conversation. My sister in law sat at the foot of the bed and held my feet so I could push against her when I had a contraction. The ex sat beside the bed. Having S and B there was a godsend; they all chatted amongst themselves and I quietly had my contractions and listened to what they were talking about. It was a good distraction, especially when, at the end of one contraction, S started to sing, Badger Badger Badger Badger…
At one point Joy had come in to check on me, and I had a really bad contraction; it just didn’t seem to stop. I was almost crying from the pain, and had my eyes closed. I heard a lot of movement, and a voice I didn’t recognise asked me to lay on my left side. Then they moved me to my right side. I opened my eyes and there were blue scrubs everywhere. I had the Entonox mouthpiece in my mouth, and as I looked up to the monitor I realised it was not registering a heartbeat. I saw my sister in law standing behind it, with an expression I had never seen before, and I began to cry. My sister in law does not shock easily; she told me later that she was almost in tears when that happened.I was so scared, and it hurt so much. I have no idea what happened next, but eventually it stopped, and a doctor was sitting on the bed telling me that they were going to put a clip on the baby’s head so that they could keep a better track of its heartbeat. I nodded that I understood, and she did it and left. Later, the ex told me that my body had squeezed my baby so hard, her heart had stopped beating and I had almost killed her. I didn’t realise this was not true until months later, when my health visitor (already shown to be a legend here) told me that no, in all likelihood either the baby had moved away from the monitor, or the fact my uterus was contracting just meant the sensors couldn’t sense anything through the muscle. Until that conversation with my health visitor, I believed I had almost killed my own child.
They were about to hook me back up to the monitors again, but I needed the toilet so the ex and the midwife helped me to the toilet. While I was in there, I was sick into a bowl Joy was holding. I was so embarrassed, and asked her, “is it maybe the gas and air making me sick?” She chuckled and said, “no, it’s labour dear.” Nobody had told me there would be vomit involved! I had two contractions in the bathroom, with no pain relief. It hurt. When they’d got me back onto the bed and hooked up to the monitors again, S and B came back into the room; they’d been sent out when the midwife called for help earlier. S was crying and for some reason she was holding my pants! I was mortified. They stayed a while longer, but the contractions were getting too painful and I didn’t want them to see me in this much pain so I asked them to go and wait in the waiting room.
I remember asking the midwife, there must be something else I can have for the pain, isn’t there something else? My appointment to make my birthing plan with the midwife was the next week; I’d not been through any of this, hadn’t been to any birthing classes and was totally unprepared. She offered me pethidine, but my sister in law had told me bad things about that. While I was trying to decide, I had another contraction, and the discussion was forgotten.
Joy told me that the baby was now trying to get “round the bend” in the birthing canal, and would be out soon. She put my right foot on her hip, and had the ex stand opposite her with my left foot on his hip. My sister in law stood beside me, holding my hand. Joy checked and said I still had a little lip of cervix in the way, and should lay on my left side and not push for a little while. I told her, “I don’t know how to not push; I wasn’t doing it deliberately to start with!” I remember the ex being on the phone to his babysitter, who was pregnant herself. I shouted at him to get off the phone to her because if she heard me shouting she would freak out. The ex’s mother and my mother both kept calling our mobiles, and after a while when neither of us answered they both called the ward. The first time an assistant came into the room and said, “Vicky’s mum called, she says hi.” then they came back to say the ex’s mother had called and could he call when he got a minute. I shouted, ,”what the F**K do they think we’re doing in here?!”
I lay on my side for a few contractions, thinking, any minute now someone will come in and tell me I can’t possibly do this, they’ll take me for a C Section and I won’t have to do this. Later, the ex told me that the lip of cervix that had been left was because of my “ridiculous” insistence on always sleeping on my left side from very early in pregnancy. He’d always told me I was being deliberately difficult when I didn’t want to sleep on my back or my right side, and he believed it was my stubbornness that had caused this problem during my labour. At the time, I remember thinking that my cervix clearly hadn’t moved because one night last week, I had been so desperate for sleep I had rolled onto my right side and slept for twenty minutes in that position. Either way, it was my fault
It must have been 8pm by this point, because the shift changed over. Joy left, and a lady called Sue came in. They moved me onto my back, and I began pushing again.
I remember the radio was on, playing a local station who were doing “great Number 1s” for the Easter bank holiday. A Coldplay song came on, and I took the Entonox out of my mouth and declared, “no child of mine is being born to this!” The midwife laughed and looked to the ex, who told her “no, she’s serious; she hates them.” We all sat there in uncomfortable silence until the song finished; I didn’t have any contractions until the song was over
I remember squeezing my sister in law’s hand every time I had a contraction, and feeling bad that I was probably hurting her. I felt like my body was being lifted off the bed with the pressure of each contraction, and I made some very odd noises. It stung a bit, but it was more pressure than pain really. My sister in law said to me, “the head’s out, do you want to feel it?” and then I felt the baby’s body come out. It was all a blur; the midwife lifted my baby up and lay it on my belly. I asked, “what is it?” and she held her up so I could see I had a little girl. I was so relieved. It was 8:21pm and St Elmo’s Fire was playing on the radio. Infinitely more agreeable than Coldplay. (St Elmo’s Fire is now “our song” and whenever it comes on the radio we dance to it together)
I looked up and the ex was on the phone to his mother, telling her it was a girl, and that he’d been really scared. I thought, but you never showed me, you made me feel like I had to pretend not to be scared because it was nothing to make a fuss about. He told her he had to go because he had to cut the cord. I lay there with this tiny baby laying on me, with no idea what to do next. I don’t remember whether he kissed me or told me “well done” or any of the things you would expect.They weighed her and checked her over, then gave her back to me. My sister in law told me S and B were still in the waiting room, and my sister Z was with them; could she go and get them? I panicked and said no; the room looked like a scene from a horror movie, and if my sister ever saw this she would never have children! I insisted we clean up before anyone came in. They sat me in a chair and changed the bed sheets, then put me back on the bed with my baby. I don’t remember much else; I know people came and went, photos were taken, and the doctors put a cannula in her arm to give her antibiotics because she’d been inside of me for more than 24 hours after my waters went.
Everyone but the ex left, and the midwife said they would take me to the ward soon. The ex told me to have a shower, so I did. When I got out he said to try and see if she would breastfeed, but she didn’t; she was asleep. I felt like a failure. I later realised that if you want to breastfeed, it’s better not to have a shower straight after giving birth. The midwife came in and asked if I wanted a wheelchair to take me to the ward. I knew that would be classed as making a fuss, and I wasn’t allowed to do that, so I said no thank you, and walked very slowly and unsteadily up to the ward behind the fish bowl carrying my baby, all wrapped in blankets because none of the clothes I’d packed in my hospital bag for her would fit her tiny body.
I remember the ex telling me, they’ll probably keep you in for a few days now, because she was early. Until this point, I had always been of the opinion, “it’s just birth, it’s no big deal; I’ll have the baby and be home by lunch time.” (I think in hindsight, this was more his opinion than mine, but I was very gung-ho about it nonetheless) But I found that actually the thought of being kept in hospital for a couple of days was a huge relief. I was off the hook for unpacking my new flat for a few days; I didn’t have to worry about finding my own meals for a while, and most importantly, I was off the hook for babysitting duty for the ex’s kids – and it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t be blamed for it… or so I thought. I found out later that the ex had told people I deliberately went into labour five weeks early, because I had a chest infection and wanted to be able to take medication for it that I couldn’t take if I was pregnant. Quite why nobody punched him in the face when he told them this, I will never know. Who accuses a woman of that? Who believes something like that?!
As soon as we got to the ward the ex left. He literally walked into the ward, saw where my bed would be, and said “right, I’m off” and turned around. It was after midnight and dark on the ward. They put my baby next to my bed, and I sat on the end of it, unsure what I was supposed to do. I was a mother now; what do mothers do? A doctor came down and checked her over for reflexes; I remember him saying “you might not want to watch this, some parents find it disturbing.” I didn’t look away; I didn’t really register what he was doing.
A nurse from NICU came down and asked if my baby had breastfed. I said no. She asked if she had tried and I said no, she was asleep. She asked me if my milk was in and I said I didn’t think so. She put a tube up the baby’s nose, and asked if I had a preference for formula. I said I’d no idea, so she said she would put her on Cow & Gate. Then she left and I was on my own again. Now my baby had a massive bandage on her arm, and a tube in her nose. I was even more scared to touch her. She began to cry, but I was scared to pick her up; I thought I might hurt her or dislodge the cannula or something. A maternity assistant came in and said, should I take her up to the nurses station for a cuddle, and you can have a sleep? I said ok, and she left with my baby. I lay down and fell asleep straight away.
When I woke up later, my baby was next to me again. I sat up to look at her, in a daze. Every single thing in my life had changed in 24 hours. I poked at my belly; it was no longer full and hard, but squidgy, like jelly in a deflated balloon. I kept thinking, that’s my baby. My daughter. She’s mine. I’m a mum. It didn’t sink in. I don’t think it really sank in for a good few months. I was well and truly shell-shocked, and things were going to get a lot more difficult before they showed any sign of getting easier.
I know I promised you all there was a happy ending… unfortunately for me and S, that ending didn’t come for a while. But trust me when I tell you, we are making our own happy ending now, just the two of us!